Dinosaur National Monument with Kids

Spanning both Utah and Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is a national park destination too massive to tackle in a day, or even a few days. During our visit, we opted to check out only one section of the park, on the Utah side, but we tasted just enough of this park to know we’ll be back. Here’s how to plan a trip to Dinosaur National Monument with kids:

Know the lay of the land:

There are two visitors centers in the monument: Quarry and Canyon, which also represent the major points of access to the park. Quarry is located on Highway 40 in Utah near Vernal, at Jensen. It’s a short drive from the highway. Canyon is located further east on 40 on the Colorado side, with Deerlodge Park even further east. The Gates of Lodore access is on the opposite end of the park, to the north off 34 in Colorado. The entire park is filled with rivers and canyons (the Green River as well as the Yampa). Here’s what to do at each section.

Quarry:

This is your spot for viewing the dinosaur fossils Dinosaur National Monument is known for. Start at the visitors center and watch the short film on the discovery of dino fossils, then check out the exhibits until you’re ready to board the free open-air shuttle to the Quarry Exhibit Hall. This is a must-do: here, you’ll see the great wall of dinosaur bones embedded in the rock (preserved in this way so visitors can see how the ‘log jams’ of bones came to be, under layers of soil). You can even touch some of the 149-million-year-old fossils. Additional exhibits explain what you’re looking at, as do park rangers on duty.

After shuttling up to the exhibit hall, we recommend taking the short Fossil Discovery Trail on the way back down. It’s not shaded, so plan on this one early in the day, but it’s downhill, and there are three spur trails that will lead you to more fossils and even some petroglyphs along the trail. Take the free audio driving tour next, which leads you to more petroglyphs, or the longer Sound of Silence Trail or Desert Voices Trail. Shaded picnic areas are adjacent to the visitor center.

Canyon:

Aptly named, this is the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument’s canyon country. There are no dino fossils in this section of the park. You can drive the 31-mile Harpers Corner Road and hike a Harpers Corner (a short hike suited for kids). This section of the park is open seasonally however, as it gets very wet and sometimes impassible.

Deerlodge Park is the launching point for Yampa River trips, whereas the Gates of Lodore area is the launching point for Green River trips.

If you want to add a river rafting trip to your exploration of Dinosaur National Monument, we suggest going on OARS Rafting’s Gates of Lodore or Yampa rafting trip, to be fully immersed in the park in ways not possible by car on one’s own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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